Jessica Jones: “AKA Crush Syndrome” & “AKA It’s Called Whiskey”

Posted on November 23, 2015

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With the second and third episode of the series, Marvel’s Jessica Jones assures us not only that the story is going to be meticulously plotted, but that it’s going to go deep on the concepts of post traumatic stress disorder and the psychological damage sustained by women who are victims of violent crimes or of psychological torture. While it’s true that men are victims of the same sorts of crimes and suffer the same sorts of trauma, the show is going all-in on its womanhood with these two episodes. It isn’t a show about a superhero or even a show about a lady superhero. It’s a show about the psychological effects of crime, specifically from a woman’s point of view – from several women’s points of view, in fact.

It was actually a bit of a relief when “AKA Crush Syndrome” opened on Jessica being questioned by the police regarding Hope Schlotmann’s killing of her parents. It was obvious that Hope’s actions at the end of the premiere episode were going to resonate through the rest of the season, but it’s good to see that her story isn’t over. What happened to her was horrifying, but we’d bet that on your average episode of Arrow or even Daredevil, Hope would have remained a footnote after the first episode. Instead, she’s given agency and voice here, to vent her anger and frustration and to note that Jessica herself is tied up in the crimes against her (“He said I was never as good as you”). Even if that sentiment isn’t particularly fair to Jessica, it’s of a piece with the subtle accusations against women who are raped who didn’t somehow stop their rapist from moving on to other women. And let’s be clear here, even if it hasn’t been openly stated yet: Kilgrave is a rapist. Regardless of whether he has sex with the women he controls, he is violating them on a profound level. The scene with Hope and Jessica confirms that even if it’s not stated outright. Only Jessica can understand the violation Hope suffered and Hope, in turn, is angry at Jessica because of that.

After her meeting with Hope, Jess bullies Jeri Hogarth to take on Hope’s defense. Jeri’s going through a domestic drama that seems to have little to do with the main action at this point, but like the meticulously drawn portraits of Jessica’s neighbors, we have no doubt that it will eventually become part of the main story somehow. For now, Jeri’s marital drama tends to reinforce the underlying theme that these are stories specifically about women. There’s little to distinguish her crumbling marriage and affair from a million other stories just like it, but the fact that all involved are women is what makes it feel thematically appropriate. It also does a nice job of preventing the series from becoming a too-simplistic “Men are shit/women are victims” tale.

In fact, it’s the women who are being shitheads right now. Jeri’s not a particularly likable character (and Carrie Anne Moss is doing a too-close, slightly derivative “Robin Wright in House of Cards” performance), nor is her secretary, nor is Jessica’s shrieking crazy neighbor, nor is Hope (even if that’s completely understandable), nor is Jessica herself. In fact, the lead character is probably the least likable member of the cast, outside of the villain. But Kilgrave is (quite wisely and effectively, we might add) reduced at this point in the story to a mere shadowy memory for Jessica; one that tends to invade her mind constantly without ever actually showing his face.

“Rude woman is lonely woman,” says a man whose opinion doesn’t matter to Jess. “I count on it!” she yells back at him. Part of the fun of the classic gumshoe character is that he or she is so broken by the things they’ve seen and experienced that they’re given freedom to be as rude as everyone wishes they could be now and then. They’ve earned the right to speak their minds and piss everuone around them off. But that’s not all that Jessica Jones is. She’s not just “Humphrey Bogart with breasts.” She’s also a traumatized victim of a crime, and as such, she’s frankly terrible at any form of interpersonal relationship.

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When the cops, after searching her office, find the pictures she’s been taking of Luke and show them to him, he demands an answer from her. She responds by coolly lying to his face and more or less ruining the life of another woman who had the temerity to get to him before she did. What makes this even more disturbing is when she tells Luke the woman is married and follows that up with “You can look up the marriage certificate online,” which she obviously did, revealing a level of obsession with him that’s nowhere near healthy. Especially since we know at this point that she had something to do with Luke’s wife’s death and isn’t telling him about it. If a man seduced a woman under such obsessive and dishonest circumstances, one could quite reasonably call it a form of rape. Jess isn’t just deeply damaged by her time under Kilgrave’s spell; she’s dangerously close to becoming just like him.

Working even harder to make us dislike her – or at the very least, make us realize just how damaged she is – Jess essentially forces her sweet junkie neighbor to act as a distraction so she can steal some anesthesia to use as a weapon against Kilgrave, and then abandons him at the hospital.

She’s almost as bad to her best friend and foster sister Trish, although she’s at least honest enough with her to tell her that she’s pushing her away because she feels she’s so dangerous right now (“I’m life-threatening, Trish. Steer clear of me”).  Trish, who is probably the most likable character in the story (although Luke’s a close second), won’t have any of it, and in fact, winds up antagonizing Kilgrave over the air, which sets him against her and draws her directly into the conflict between him and Jessica. What makes this development kind of wonderful to watch unfold (even if it culminated in a shocking act of violence against her), is that Trish wholeheartedly embraces that fact. She wants to insert herself into the Kilgrave drama because she knows her best friend is in no shape to handle it all on her own. And despite Jess’s protestations, Trish’s plan actually works, because it winds up bringing him face to face with her.

Two interesting things to note about Trish. One is that she’s a very long-time Marvel comics character who went from being a light-hearted teen model type of character in mid-Century Archie-style comics for girls who then went on to have a second life as a full blown superhero and member of the Avengers. The other is that she too is being positioned in this story as a victim who is learning to fight back. When Jess visits her in her fortress-like apartment and sees the bruises on her arms from her rather obsessive Krav Maga sessions, the first thing she blurts out is “Is your mother in town?” which gives you some sense of their shared history together and the idea that Jess is not the only woman who suffered abuse in her life. This is a story positively loaded with victimized women who are struggling to find their way back from their abuse, and it’s what gives the tale so much resonance over the usual superheroic fare. Not to be crude about it, but Jessica Jones is the superhero you get when the question becomes “What if Bruce Wayne was a girl? And instead of watching her parents get killed, she gets raped repeatedly?”

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Still, the show is never heavy-handed about this sort of thing. It’s only there as a theme if you’re willing to go looking for it. And Kilgrave may have a special affinity for controlling and abusing women, but he’s no less cruel to men, when he needs them for something. In fact, unlike his torturing of women, we suspect he only really uses men to perform tasks for him, like Frank, the cop who tried to choke Trish or the poor ambulance driver who had the misfortune of picking up a wounded Kilgrave after that mysterious bus crash and who lost his mobility, both kidneys and the will to live because of it, depicted in a scene so dark and disturbing that we actually had to take a break from the show for a couple of hours. “You can never see God coming,” says his mother, making Him sound more like an assailant than someone you’re supposed to put your trust and faith into.

When Jess plants a tracker on the bedazzled cop, she winds up face-to-face with her abuser and – after a disturbing scene that has her violently attacking and knocking out three of his influenced victims (reminding us once again how fighting Kilgrave only makes Jess a darker and more disturbing person) stumbles upon a makeshift shrine to her that rightly creeps her the fuck out. The “creepy shrine” trope is a very old and musty one, used in countless films and TV shows over the years. What made this scene resonate was the horrifying realization on Jess’s part that, just as she has become something of a creepy and dishonest stalker in Luke’s life, Kilgrave has become something of a PI himself, utilizing the same techniques against her as she uses against the world; hiding out in plain sight and taking picture after picture after picture. He has learned from her as much as she has learned from him and that realization sends her right to Lukes door, where she … fails to tell him the truth once again and pushes him away from her. In other words, we have a classic “I have become the monster I hunt” moment with our hero – and she completely backs away from it. We the audience can see just how screwed up and compromised she is, but the hero of our story is simply not heroic enough to face up to that fact just yet.

 

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